How to securely manage remote IT equipment

Managing remote equipment located in remote locations is a key element in any distributed IT implementation, says Daryl Miller, VP of engineering, Lantronix.

The business world today is increasingly distributed, with more companies opening branch offices in numerous locations across the country and even the globe. With this proliferation of assets in multiple locations comes a concern over how to manage resources, such as IT equipment, from a central location in order to minimize support and maintenance costs.

Managing remote equipment, such as servers, routers and switches, located in remote locations is a key element in any distributed IT implementation. Benefits include reducing support costs and minimizing downtime. However, providing a means to remotely manage or troubleshoot IT equipment can put a company at risk of unauthorized access to critical servers or other sensitive devices. The obvious benefits notwithstanding, the web is rife with threats and the potential for hackers to compromise confidential equipment and data, thus requiring companies to proceed with caution when implementing remote access to their IT systems.

Getting started: Know your requirements and research your options

So, how can businesses take advantage of the benefits of remote management without leaving systems susceptible to online threats? To satisfy budgetary concerns without sacrificing security, IT professionals should look for solutions that are "feature-complete." A feature-complete product is one that, out-of-the-box, delivers the most desired benefits with little to no customization required. This approach minimizes future incremental expenses.

However, an organization must also balance upfront costs with a solution's maturity and stability. An immature or less developed product that offers a low initial price can require higher levels of costly support and maintenance down the road.

To avoid purchases that will cause future financial and administrative headaches, a business should seek out mature solutions from reputable vendors. Larger, more well-known companies will likely be able to provide quicker and more effective support and maintenance – sometimes for free or for a reasonable fixed monthly rate. Market-leading providers typically also have skilled support staff who have more industry experience and who can provide the most knowledgeable resource for any questions or issues that may arise during both the initial deployment and over the continued use of the solution.

The console server: A critical component

Once the initial research for the best products and vendors is complete, the next steps are to ensure the company's environment fits with the selected technology. Although each organization's computing environment varies, a key element to completing the infrastructure is deployment of a console server. This will provide a central location from which staff can access servers and other IT equipment over the web. With one of these solutions, access to all IT assets is always within arm's reach.

For the best protection, a business should ensure its console server has SSL and SSH features for data encryption. This will provide a secure channel for the flow of information. It's also important to find a product that has firewall capabilities to reject connection attempts and block ports. The fewer areas of entry for outside parties, the more likely equipment and data will remain secure.

What's at risk

Companies that implement solutions to enable remote access and management of IT equipment without thinking about security are putting their networks at serious risk. An IT administrator can unknowingly open the entire network to hackers' prying hands, putting sensitive or confidential corporate information in grave danger. This can also open the floodgates for attacks – creating an easy access point for malware, spyware and other vulnerabilities that can later cripple a network.

Additionally, not deploying dependable remote access technologies could create financial burden later. As companies continue to grow and open new offices, the lack of such reliable solutions could equate to dispatching an IT administrator to each new location, leading to monumental travel expenses. Traditionally, companies would have to send staff to troubleshoot on-site, racking up significant fuel costs. With the continually fluctuating price of gasoline, such expenditures can take a serious dip into an organization's budget. Also, unnecessary wear and tear on company vehicles means more maintenance and added replacement costs – adding to overhead. Therefore, companies can save money by investing in remote access technologies that will inevitably save money in the long run, while providing much-desired convenience.

Summary of key benefits

The top advantages of implementing technology that allows IT administrators to securely manage remote equipment include increased protection of a company's network and fewer burdens on its IT team. Such products save companies valuable time and resources, no longer requiring them to dispatch technicians to troubleshoot or even provide simple service offerings, on-site. Employees can handle maintenance issues on a case-by-case basis, regardless of location. Instead of high travel expenses or staffing each office with a dedicated IT point person, a business can cut costs with a smaller IT department and investment in cost-effective products.

Secure, remote IT technology has moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have component of any organization's IT management. Leveraging such technologies can aid in companies' green efforts, as they offer an added benefit of enabling administrators to monitor energy use and shut down devices, or even electrical systems, before energy consumption gets out of hand.

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